Recognition of International Board Certified Lactation Consultants by health insurance providers in the United States: results of a national survey of lactation consultants

J Hum Lact. 2013 Nov;29(4):517-26. doi: 10.1177/0890334413499974. Epub 2013 Aug 20.


Background: Insurance coverage for lactation management is proposed by the United States Affordable Care Act. International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) are key providers of lactation services. In order to inform national discussion, this study examines the scope of insurance reimbursement of IBCLC services.

Objectives: An email survey of US IBCLCs (N = 10 495) in March 2011 was used to explore frequencies of (1) submission--how often lactation consults were submitted to insurance providers for reimbursement and (2) recognition--the proportion of submitted charges recognized by insurance providers.

Methods: Results (N = 2045) were analyzed to describe patterns of submission and recognition by IBCLC work setting, job classification, and reimbursement strategy.

Results: Many survey respondents did not know their submission (41%) or recognition (57%) levels. Multiple strategies were used for reimbursement of IBCLC services with large variations in recognition between strategies. Overall, less than 15% reported high levels of submissions to insurance providers. Moreover, of submitted encounters, only 4% were consistently recognized by insurance providers. Inpatient hospital IBCLCs were least likely to have consults recognized (3%), and private community IBCLCs were most frequently recognized (32%). Compared with using IBCLC credentials for submitting an encounter, using another clinical license was the most successful strategy for achieving recognition of IBCLC consults (crude risk ratio, 1.44; 95% confidence interval, 1.04-2.01; P = .02).

Conclusion: IBCLCs provide key care to a vulnerable population. However, we found that these services are not consistently reimbursed. IBCLCs poorly communicate their health care activities to insurance providers, but insurance providers also inconsistently recognize and reimburse IBCLC care.

Keywords: United States; access to care; administration; breastfeeding; health care; hospital practices; insurance; lactation counseling; marketing of health services; reimbursement.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Female
  • Health Education / economics
  • Health Education / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Insurance Coverage / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Insurance, Health / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Lactation
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Racial Groups
  • Referral and Consultation / economics
  • Referral and Consultation / organization & administration*
  • Workplace
  • Young Adult